Coffee and Nuts in Hawaii

When Mark Twain visited the Big Island of Hawaii, he planted a monkey pod tree which is prominently marked on tourists maps for all the upscale followers to that not so innocent abroad. He also tasted Kona coffee and without exaggeration, proclaimed it to be unequalled in the world.

“I think Kona coffee,” said Mark Twain in July of 1866, “has a richer flavor than any other be it grown where it may and by what name you please.”

The elite beverage, Kona coffee, is grown only along a narrow coastal section of the Big Island of Hawaii. The leeward slopes of the volcano Mauna Loa provide fine volcanic soil, proper elevation, wind protection, adequate water, and amazingly afternoon shade. In most coffee producing areas of the world, larger trees are planted to shade the coffee plants from the withering afternoon heat. In Hawaii, thin afternoon clouds form at the upper level of the Kona coast to protect the plants from the sun.

Kona coffee has been produced since 1828. Hawaii is the only place in the USA where coffee is grown commercially. Besides the Kona coast, there are small plantations on Maui, Kauai, and Molokai. One coffee plant will produce about a pound of coffee a year. The first coffee plants were planted as ornamental shrubs by a missionary in 1818. The seedlings came from Brazil, but can be traced to a single coffee tree in the royal greenhouse of Louis XIV of France. The tree was presented to Louis by the Dutch in 1714 as a peace gesture during the signing of the Treaty of Utrecht.

For years, the community of Kona has had a yearly festival including a parade with floats and a Kona Coffee Queen. Photos of the 1953 parade record a sentimental protest lamenting the switch from mules to machines. Signs carried in the parade had such slogans as, “Kona’s reached a Doleful pass when our bray gives way to gas.”

So the champagne of coffee actually came from a French king. How appropriate for the millions of yuppie coffee connoisseurs. Certainly that bit of information is worth an added twenty-five cents to the price of a cup. It certainly keeps the family down on the farm. Many of the coffee plantations are in the hands of the 4th and 5th generations.

It’s smooth, richly-flavored, rare, and expensive-the perfect yuppie snack. It’s a macadamia nut, named for Dr. John Macadam. A friend of his discovered the nut tree in Australia in the mid-1800s. In 1891, the first trees were planted on the Big Island of Hawaii. Those original trees are still producing. It takes five years for a tree to begin producing, and it reached full production in about twelve years. Actually, one tree can give you a good profit.

The nuts are not picked but allowed to fall to the ground. Specialized machines blow away the debris and then pick up the nuts. After the nuts are cracked open with 300 pound of pressure, they are roasted in coconut oil. The oil is spun off in a centrifuge and powdered salt added.

Until the rise of the yuppie-class in the mid-seventies, macadamia nuts were a strange, expensive holiday gift. From 1978 to 1984, production has doubled. The nuts are now the third largest agricultural commodity in Hawaii. About 40 million pounds are sold each year at a value of about $40 million. The American market could handle, so they say, 130 million pounds a year. Bunches of munching yuppies with deep pockets are wandering the hungry streets of suburbia. Right now, the American market consumes just over 50 percent of the macadamia nut production with Japan bringing up second place with taking home 15 percent of the Hawaiian production.

These nuts are high in protein and minerals and actually reduce cholesterol. An old Hawaiian chant can be translated as, “Earth and water are the food of the plant. The god enters, man cannot enter.” I believe that means Visa and MasterCard accepted.

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